Emmy’s almost here, so be prepared to wonder just what, exactly, the TV Academy is watching. Certainly, it’s not the same shows that I’m invested in.
Ten drama series and 10 comedies have already been named as semifinalists by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Using that list as a base, here are the shows and actors I'd like to see nominated on the morning of July 17.
“Friday Night Lights”
Don’t forget about: “Damages”
“The Wire” might be the greatest drama in the history of TV. If the TV Academy shuts it out for the final time, I’m going to scream so loud that panes of glass will start shattering all around Los Angeles. “Lost” continues its phenomenal mix of mythology and science fiction, closing a stellar season with a Locke in a box. “House” should be commended for trying something different this year, basically bringing in an entirely new cast. Some episodes worked, some didn’t, but the change was well executed. Granted, “Friday Night Lights” probably wasn’t as good in season two as when it first began, but it's still mighty impressive. “Mad Men” was the season’s best new program by far, capturing 1960s New York right down to the salesladies earrings at Menken’s department store.
Gabriel Byrne, “In Treatment”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Hugh Laurie, “House”
Don’t forget about: Damian Lewis, “Life,” and Dominic West, “The Wire”
What made Byrne’s performance as a therapist in “In Treatment” so impressive is that, for the majority of his scenes, he acts all while sitting down, conveying much of his feelings and emotion with just his eyes and hands. Laurie has been so good for so long now, it’s easy to dismiss his superlative weekly transformation from British cutup to sarcastic and angry New Jersey doc. Cranston, who played a buffoon on “Malcolm in the Middle,” got to show off a huge range of emotion as a meth-making chemistry teacher on “Breaking Bad.” With his handsome features and finely tailored suits, Hamm came out of nowhere to wow viewers, all the while keeping his secrets close to the vest. Hall offers a perfect balance between serial killer and a guy you’d want to hang out with at the ball game.
Glenn Close, “Damages”
Sally Field, “Brothers and Sisters”
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”
Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer”
Jeanne Tripplehorn, “Big Love”
Don’t forget about: Holly Hunter, “Saving Grace”
With “The Shield” and now “Damages,“ Close has proven that she’s just as much as a force on TV as she is in film. What client wouldn’t want this bulldog of an attorney on their side? Moss had to take abuse from the boys all season long, and finally her hard work produced a nice promotion (and a baby, too). Sedgwick has turned her character’s Southern charm into two straight Emmy nominations. “Big Love” often falls out of Emmy favor because it airs in the summer — almost a year before voters mark their ballot — but that’s no reason to forget Tripplehorn’s passionate turn as wife No. 1. Field is the defending champ in this category and that automatically keeps her in the race as a contender.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
“Two and a Half Men”
Don’t forget about: “Pushing Daisies”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” felt re-energized last year with Larry playing off the Black family. At the beginning of the season, who would’ve ever guessed that Cheryl would’ve been replaced by Vivica A. Fox as Larry’s love interest? Eric’s instincts about “Medellin” were right on, and the film bombed at Cannes. The “Entourage” boys try to figure out where to go from here, all the while continuing to skewer Hollywood’s warped sensibilities. “30 Rock” deservedly won the Emmy last year, and could take the crown again. It’s easy to dismiss “Men” as nothing more than a handful of sexual innuendoes, but that would be a discredit to stellar writing and comedically sharp performances. “The Office“ continues its winning ways, poking fun at the subculture of cubicle existence.
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Steve Carell, “The Office”
Johnny Galecki, “The Big Bang Theory”
Kelsey Grammer, “Back to You”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”
Don’t forget about: Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men”
It’s impossible to separate Galecki — a sitcom vet from “Roseanne” — from Parsons, a newcomer who can spin a science equation into comedic gold. No two actors had better chemistry on TV last season. Baldwin doesn’t need anyone to push his case, as any single episode of “30 Rock” will provide doubters with more than enough evidence. Carell is so convincing as "The Office's" bumbling boss that he’s made many forget he actually inherited this role from Brit genius Ricky Gervais. Grammer deserved a better fate than to see his sitcom canceled after only one season.
Christina Applegate, “Samantha Who?”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Judy Greer, “Miss Guided”
Patricia Heaton, “Back to You”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “The Old Adventures of New Christine”
Don’t forget about: Anna Friel, “Pushing Daisies,” and Sarah Silverman, "The Sarah Silverman Program"
Fey can’t complain anymore about being under the radar, and her media exposure has been well-earned. How many folks out there can claim to be a triple threat — exec producer, writer, and star — of an Emmy-winning show? Both Louis-Dreyfus and Heaton followed a similar path, moving from a huge series to a new one, and both proved that they’ve got the chops to get laughs wherever they go. Heaton’s series was short-lived, but that shouldn’t be held against her. Applegate’s Samantha is certainly amiable enough to generate voter enthusiasm and Greer’s blink-and-you-missed-it series was a midseason treasure, given way too short shrift by ABC.
Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor at Variety. He can be reached at email@example.com.